Episode 72

LEADERSHIP:

How to create REAL innovation

Innovation is easily the most abused word in the corporate lexicon because we all talk about it so much but so few companies and teams are actually able to create it. In this episode we will look at why innovation fails, the traits of truly innovative teams and what you can start doing on your team or in your company to fix all of this.


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I have been doing a lot of thinking about how do I want to end the year for this show? What do I want to talk about? What do we all need to work on? What problem do I see the most? I started by thinking about all the teams I have been lucky enough to work with this year and I thought about the biggest problems I see them struggle with. I kept coming back to one topic – innovation.

Innovation is easily the most abused word in the corporate lexicon. We all talk about it but so few companies and teams are actually able to create it. In this episode we will look at why innovation fails, the traits of truly innovative teams and what you can start doing on your team or in your company to fix all of this.

The innovation you need will not be authorized

I think we need to start with something we probably all know or have seen but are afraid to say out loud. After all the companies I’ve talked with I also have come to a new insight that has been sitting in plain sight. To create the innovation your company it will probably have to be done in a way that not be authorized.

Why is this?
Most companies have antiquated processes in place that fight the ability to create any real innovation. Those processes do not change because most companies are more afraid of change than they are of becoming disrupted or having their way or working made obsolete. So instead of making real change most companies launch innovation labs or innovation initiatives to make themselves feel better.

Why innovation fails

In my work I see a lot of these “innovation labs” but the hard truth is that most of these are northing more than expensive PR stunts that fail in about 12-24 month increments that create no real value or innovation.

Why do they fail?
• Innovation work doesn’t align with the main product roadmap so all innovation work exists on its own and never finds scale or traction.
• Teams want to create new “design” languages or new tech stacks for every project so they require double work to integrate
• They want the output of the innovation work to be something they can go taken to the press and/or the board of directors so they are working for the wrong customers.
• They have innovation projects that never go anywhere so the team quickly has that unfulfilled inspiration turn into frustration.
No way to pass work or learnings back to the main organization.

As a result of these problems we have seen the rise of a backlash against everything from innovation to creative methodologies like Design Thinking. It is an understandable frustration and feeling but when I sat down and really looked at their process you see that the methodology wasn’t the problem – it was the applications, discipline and management of the process that was the problem. They were only taking parts and pieces of the methodology and skipping key steps like keeping consumers at the center of the work, starting with research and insights, or other things that strip the process down to being a mess every time. When this happens innovation and creativity can feel more like madness than a method to most people which is why it needs discipline and management.

3 dimensions of empowered teams

So what innovation look like? I think there are 3 critical dimensions that your team has to have.

Product: the tools you use
Practices: the processes you use
People: the behaviors you establish

The key to all of this is going to be freedom in a framework. Your innovation has to have structure but not so much that is smothers creativity.Innovation is about balance. as too much freedom and you never ship or have an effect and too much process and it will smother original thinking as you become a slave to the process.

1: Product

Tools that allow collaboration.

Tools that allow for an inclusive design process without losing control.

Cloud based tools.

2: Practices

You need both practices and people – not either or. One without the other and things will collapse.

Their team has balance between feasibility (tech), desirability (design) and profitability (product)
• Tech needs to be a part of the entire process
• Product needs to know requirements shouldn’t be written in stone
• Design needs to understand everyone needs to be involved and creativity is a team sport.

A clear sources of truth – customers, data, etc.
• You opinion is not the source of truth but it can be a source of inspiration.
• You need data and feedback to make this work and you need to do it throughout the entire process.

They rethink metrics and KPI’s
• New ventures often struggle because they are judged by the same metrics used to evaluate activities that the business has been involved in for decades.

Ability to look beyond the project in front of them.

Balance data and creativity.

Know how to keep learning from turning into failure.

Build to think prototyping throughout the entire process.

Clear process for how this work will be integrated into the main roadmap.

3: People

Embracing learning but no tolerance for failure or incompetence.

Respectful and confident but brutally candid.
• You and your team can not do your best work if you can not be honest about what you think

Flat but strong leadership.
• Far too many companies ship the org chart so you need to fight this
• By flat I don’t mean like an org chart – I mean culturally flat.
• People need to be given latitude to take actions, make decision and voice their opinions.
• This does not mean lack of leadership – it means you have people who can think for themselves

Group collaboration with individual accountability.
• This is how you keep the flat cultural org working

Understand failure and imposter syndrome.
• You will never accomplish anything original if you are not willing to fail.
• Episode 69

Understanding that each team member has their own superpowers.
• SYPartners superpowers deck
• The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Beating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization

Suspend judgement

They actively listen

Where do you start if you want to change this?

Create behaviors that allow everyone to change thinking not just behavior.
• Should be 4-5 behaviors
• Should be the way that you want people to think in any part of the company

Create time to think and discuss the road ahead
• Teams usually run from project to project or fire to fire filling their day with small problems leaving the big one unsolved.
• Create meetings that discuss where you want to go with the work, where there are opportunities and then assign people to start exploring them.

Take on cultural barriers and biases
• Pink elephants sitting in plain site.

Final thought

The work is a result of an innovative cultural and behavioral change not the other way around. Too many companies start by thinking if they can find a way to do innovative work then it will change everything and that isn’t the way it work.

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